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The Upright Piano Player

David Abbott

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ISBN 10: 0307743322 / ISBN 13: 9780307743329
Published by Anchor, 2012
New Condition: New Soft cover
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Bibliographic Details

Title: The Upright Piano Player

Publisher: Anchor

Publication Date: 2012

Binding: Paperback

Book Condition: New

Edition: Reprint.

About this title


Henry Cage seems to have it all: a successful career, money, a beautiful home, and a reputation for being a just and principled man. But public virtues can conceal private failings, and as Henry faces retirement, his well-ordered life begins to unravel. His ex-wife is ill, his relationship with his son is strained to the point of estrangement, and on the eve of the new millennium he is the victim of a random violent act which soon escalates into a prolonged and mysterious harassment. Who is doing this? And why?
Full of exceptional grace and emotional power, The Upright Piano Player is a wise and acutely observed novel about the myriad ways in which life tests us—no matter how carefully we have constructed our own little fortresses.


Questions for David Abbott on The Upright Piano Player

Q: After a successful career in advertising of nearly 40 years, why did you decide to write this book?

A: I was a copywriter for over forty years and it kept me ludicrously busy. I know some would-be novelists sit at the kitchen table and write throughout the night, grabbing only a few hours sleep before they go off to their day jobs, but I couldn’t do that, because I was already sitting at that table writing ads into the small hours. The truth is, I wanted to be a good copywriter and I didn’t think I could be, if I did it only to pay the rent while my heart was really engaged with fiction. So, I waited until I retired. I had always felt that one day I would try to write something else – a novel, short stories, a screenplay, lyrics, jokes – I wasn’t sure which. But first I wanted a rest from deadlines, so I didn’t plunge straight into writing. I made a garden, converted a house, read a lot of books, and watched the world go by from pavement cafes in favorite cities – no writing as such, but I did start to keep a notebook. And in 1999, on the eve of the new millennium, my wife and I actually made the homeward journey that Henry Cage makes in the book. Of course, I wasn’t attacked, but that journey recorded in my notebook was the genesis of The Upright Piano Player.

Q: Why did you name the book The Upright Piano Player?

A: The title came late. Whenever I needed a break from the slog of the main narrative, I would amuse myself by filling pages of an exercise book with prospective titles. On one of these jags I wrote the word ‘Upright’ – to describe Henry. It seemed made for him with its association with goodness and virtue but it is a word that also carries a nuance of “stiff” and “unbending” which is not inappropriate either. It took me a long time to make the “Upright” connection between Henry and his piano, but when I did I whooped with joy. The elation lasted a day. “Just what everyone will expect from an advertising writer” – I said to myself – “a pun, the very lowest form of wit.” When I first showed the manuscript to a publisher it had another title, but I couldn’t forget “The Upright Piano Player” and I soon restored it to its rightful place. Pun or not, I love it.

Q: Which of the characters do you identify with the most in the novel?

A: I know you expect me to say Henry, and it’s true I gave him some of my bookish and artistic enthusiasms and much of my geography, but the fact is I identify with all the characters in the book. How could I not? Some play bigger roles than others, but they all have some of me in them.

Q: Which character was most fun to write?

A: It’s a toss-up between Colin and Jack. Because Colin is by nature unpredictable he often took me by surprise. I had no plans for him to kill the dog when he went into the yard to puncture the tires, but he would, wouldn’t he? That kind of playback is exciting for a writer (says he grandly on his first book). I enjoyed writing about Jack, too. In many ways he is the reverse of Henry; socially at ease where Henry is a loner. I like Jack’s humanity and straight talking. He reminds me of several American men I know. I’m happy he was at Nessa’s bedside when she died.

Q: Why did you decide to begin the book with an event in Henry’s life that chronologically takes place after the rest of the book? Did you ever think about positioning the beginning of the book at the end?

A: I did this partly because it was the harder thing to do and made the book different, but mostly because I couldn’t bear it to be at the end. I put myself in the position of the readers of the book. They have just read a story of a lonely man finding a way to reunite with his family after a 5-year estrangement. He has had a run of bad luck (or bad decisions) but he is feeling his way to reconciliation. In the process, he discovers a grandson and loses a wife, but he has made his peace and reorganizes his life to work and spend time with his son and his family. To then hit the reader with the catastrophe of the grandson’s death seemed to me too manipulative. I feared they would feel cheated. Several people, including a couple of publishers, did suggest that I put the accident in its chronological place at the end of the book, but I couldn’t. For me, the overarching tragedy at the beginning adds depth and poignancy to the story. Many readers have told me that on finishing the book they go back to Part One and read it again, hoping it isn’t true. I know how they feel.

Q: What is your favorite moment in Henry’s life? What is your least favorite?

A: I like Henry most when he is nice to Nessa and dislike him most when he isn’t.

Q: Controlling your life’s path versus falling into a premeditated destiny seems to be an underlying theme throughout the book. What do you think about destiny and especially the way each of the characters transcend this theme?

A: I married an Irish girl when I was twenty-three and not wanting to be left out of any part of her life, I always went to Mass with her. Five years later I took instruction and became a Catholic myself, but to be honest I had been interested in fate and consequence long before then. Do we get what we deserve in life? Or is life just a series of random accidents? The two epigrams at the start of the book illustrate the two opposing viewpoints and so, too, in the book, do Henry and Jack. At one point, Henry blames a recent misfortune on his ‘various failings’ and Jack responds “It was wrong time, wrong place – that’s all, Henry. There’s no big finger pointing down from the sky.” As an author I remain neutral and leave the reader to blame Henry a little, a lot, or not at all. As a man, I can’t believe that people get what they deserve – bombs still fall on the innocent, disease still strikes down the kindly and the good and there is still feast and famine. But on the other hand, I kind of believe you get time off for good behavior.

Q: What is next for you?

A: I am on the lower foothills of the next novel. It’s too soon to tell you what it’s about, but I’m nervous and excited about where the story is heading.

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